These are the keys to making fairway bunkers your friend
With the right technique, understanding, attitude and proper club selection, you can turn a negative, like hitting a shot into a fairway bunker, into a positive, by making fairways bunkers a strength in your game.
Let me start by dispelling a popular myth. If I had a dollar for every time one of my members has said to me, “I am in a fairway bunker, so that means I should pick it clean,” I could take my family out for a really nice dinner.
For some reason this incorrect idea causes many players to top the ball, which ultimately means you may still be in the bunker afterward. Instead of trying to pick it clean, I recommend hitting the ball first, and then the sand, the same way you hit a shot when the ball is on the turf. A proper divot happens after the ball, on the target side.
1. Set up for success
To successfully execute a shot like this, you need proper ball position (close to the center of your stance for irons, hybrids and fairway woods) and also a basically regular golf swing.
Club selection is also really important, as you need to choose a club that has enough loft to easily clear the lip in front of your golf ball.
Lofted hybrids and fairway woods are some of my favorite options in a fairway bunker. A 6 or 5-hybrid are easy to launch and still go a reasonable distance to advance down the fairway. If you have a little more room between you and the lip and don’t need to launch the ball super high to clear it, a 9-wood or a 7-wood will also work really well and give you a bit more distance down the fairway.
If you’re facing a shorter shot from a fairway bunker, then a good rule of thumb is to take one more club than you would if the ball were on the turf. For example: If you have a 90-yard shot and you normally hit a 9-iron, go with an 8-iron instead.
2. Using proper technique
You need to avoid the inclination to try to lift the ball or pick it cleanly out of the sand. Remember: your approach to a fairway bunker shot should be no different than a regular golf shot from the turf. By finishing in a balanced position where your trail heel is off the ground, you will hit the ball first and then the sand, maximizing contact and distance.
If you aren’t hitting your bunker shots cleanly, or are hitting too much sand before or after the ball, there are a few adjustments you can make.
-Gripping down a bit on the grip can make the club shorter and thereby less likely to dig.
-Narrowing your stance will help limit the number of possible locations where the club can contact the sand, which will in turn allow your contact to be more consistent.
-Wedging your trail foot so that your little toe is higher than your big toe will help keep you from moving too laterally on your backswing, making it easier to hit the ball first and then the sand.
If you tend to hit high on the ball and it does not get enough launch, try the following:
-Check your posture. Your upper body should be bent forward from your hips.
-Slightly dig your feet into the sand to help lower the bottom of your swing into the sand.
-Avoid the instinct to “help” the ball over the lip. Let your club’s loft do the work!
Many of the golfers that I see struggle with fairway bunkers are trying to lift the ball, and will fall back with a heel that is still on the ground on the trail foot. Focus on taking sand after the ball, so you allow your body to move athletically and pivot off of your back foot. Get in the good habit of holding your finish so you can check this.
Don’t let the lip in front of you change your swing motion to do anything different. Make sure you have enough loft to easily clear the lip. You must first understand what you are trying to do to be successful.
With the right club, set-up and technique, it’s possible to make fairway bunkers a true asset to your game.
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For more golf tips from Kellie Stenzel, click here.